Black history takes stage

February 23, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

In song, poetry and skits, a group of young entertainers joined in a celebration of black history and culture last night at the Bywater Boys and Girls Club.

More than 100 residents of the Annapolis Bywater and Annapolis Gardens communities crowded into the building for the program created and performed by 20 children and teen-agers -- members of a project called Growing Up Black and Proud, sponsored by the Bywater Planning Action Committee.

There was no music to accompany the singers, no scenery behind the actors and the sound system was unreliable, but still the messages were clear.

"People have to look inside themselves for the answers," said 10-year-old Sherri Gross, who sang "Hero."

One skit portrayed the legacy of Rosa Parks, whose refusal to sit in the back of a segregated bus sparked a historic boycott of public transportation in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955. Folding metal chairs were used to form an imaginary bus.

Inside the bus, a sign marked "Colored" showed where blacks had to sit.

Two of the children, their faces whitened with powder, played the bus driver and a passenger who protested when Mrs. Parks -- played by Bilan Bruce -- sat in the front of a bus that was reserved for whites.

"What Rosa Parks did allows us to sit anywhere we want to," Rashida Long, 11, said.

In another skit, 10-year-old Andrea Singleton played Harriet Tubman, an Abolitionist who helped slaves in the South escape to the North. "She led over 300 people to freedom," Andrea said.

The only adult performer of the evening was Craig Anthony Bannister, a griot, or storyteller. Wearing African-style dress and carrying a cow's tail, Mr. Bannister told stories about why the Devil is never seen sitting, spiders who trapped a blood-thirsty lion, and the slave Dave, who never looked back after gaining his freedom.

All of Mr. Bannister's stories had a message.

"If you know who you are, you'll always know where you're going," he told the children.

The Bywater Planning Action Committee, which helped sponsor the program, is one of 11 nonprofit community organizations started in Anne Arundel in 1988 as part of an effort to fight alcohol and drug abuse and the use of tobacco. The committee sponsors activities for children, trying to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Deneice Fisher, one of the program's coordinators, quoted an vTC African proverb to explain the program. "It takes an entire village to raise a child," she said, then called all of the adults in the audience to the front of the room, asking them to stand before the children and make a commitment to help them.

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